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Id Foundation

Indian elections: new victory for the nationalists

Every Monday morning, you can listen the director of the Identity and Democracy Foundation on Ligne Droite, Radio Courtoisie’s morning show, followed by his column on our website. This week, we focus on the elections in India.


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Parliamentary elections against a backdrop of communal tensions


On June 1, India’s parliamentary elections came to an end, to re-elect the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, and appoint the Prime Minister. Since 2014, the People’s Party of India (BJP) has ruled the country with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. The BJP is a right-wing party, neoliberal in economics, conservative and above all highly nationalistic. Its official ideology, Hindutva, is based on the idea that Hinduism, which is the religion of 80% of the Indian population, should serve as the basis for all Indian society. The BJP is therefore a Hindu religious nationalist party that relies on the Hindu majority, but is regularly accused of representing a danger to the country’s religious minorities, particularly the Muslim minority. Indeed, India is a religiously diverse country, with 15% of its population Muslim. With 70 million Muslims, India is the third largest Muslim country in the world. For several decades now, tensions have been running high between Hindus and Muslims, often degenerating into outbreaks of violence. The arrival in power of the BJP, which supports Hindu nationalists, is part of this context of religious and community tensions, and the BJP does not hesitate to use the law to support the cause of Hinduism. Thus, the anti-conversion law passed by the BJP, officially to prevent forced conversions of Hindus, is often used by regional governments to persecute Muslims, and sometimes Christians too, who represent 2% of the country’s population.


The construction of the Ayodhya Hindu temple, a symbol of discord between Hindus and Muslims


The recent construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a former mosque has made the situation particularly explosive and reflects the conflicts that are shaking Indian society. Ayodhya is a sacred city for Hinduism. It is said to have been founded by Manu, the first man, the Hindu equivalent of Adam, and to be the birthplace of Rama, seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, one of the most important Hindu deities. In the 16th century, after the Muslim conquest of India, a mosque was built in the city to replace a temple dedicated to Rama. This mosque became the symbol of the struggle between Muslims and Hindus in the country, the latter demanding the destruction of the mosque and the reconstruction of the temple of Rama. In 1992, a mob of Hindu nationalists destroyed the mosque, sparking a nationwide outbreak of communal violence that resulted in over 2,000 deaths, mainly among Muslims. Since then, Hindus had been demanding the construction of the Rama temple, while Muslims demanded the reconstruction of the mosque. The BJP had made the promise to build the temple a central element of its communication and a symbol of its determination to see the cause of Hinduism triumph. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Hindus and a new temple was built. Inaugurated with great fanfare by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ram Mandir is one of the largest Hindu temples in the country and is destined to turn the city of Ayodhya into a Hindu Jerusalem. For the BJP, this political as well as religious victory signals the dawn of a new era, marking India’s rebirth and liberation. The inauguration heightened tensions between Muslims and Hindus.


The political forces at play in these elections


India is a vast country, a mosaic of ethnic groups and religions. The large number of political parties in the country reflects this diversity. Nevertheless, in national elections, these parties come together in vast coalitions, which may comprise forty or fifty regional political parties united around a large national party. In the 2024 elections, there were two major coalitions. On the one hand, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), bringing together parties from the center-right to the radical right united behind Narendra Modi’s nationalist project, sought to secure a third term for Modi. Opposing it was the Indian Nation’s Inclusive Alliance for Development (INDIA), led by the Indian National Congress (INC). Founded in 1885, the INC is the country’s oldest party. The party of Gandhi, it won independence and then ruled the country for several decades until the BJP ended its domination of Indian politics. Since then, it has been the leading opposition party. Center-left, social-democratic, secular, Western and progressive, the INC defends a civic nationalism that contrasts with the religious nationalism of the BJP. It relies on the Westernized middle classes in the country’s major cities, as well as on the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, whose interests it claims to defend against Hindu nationalists. He criticizes what he sees as the BJP’s illiberal excesses, as well as its economic and social record.


A mixed victory for the BJP


As expected, the BJP won the Indian elections. With 42.5% of the vote and 293 seats out of 543, including 36.5% of the vote and 240 seats for the BJP, the NDA retained its majority in the Assembly. However, it failed to achieve the two-thirds majority that the BJP had been aiming for during its campaign. Such a majority would have enabled it to change India’s constitution, notably to reverse its secular character by recognizing Hinduism as the official religion. Conversely, INDIA’s strong showing, with 40.5% of the vote including 21% for Congress, marks the rebirth of the Indian National Congress after a decade of electoral difficulties. However, it remains to be seen whether the vast opposition coalition will survive this defeat.


The stakes of these elections for Europe


India is an emerging power, both demographically (it will soon be the leading nation in terms of population) and economically (India is enjoying very strong GDP growth). The developments affecting the country are therefore important to take into account. Moreover, India is one of the founding powers of the BRICS, the coalition of countries seeking to offer an alternative to Western hegemony. At the same time, India is wary of China, with which it has territorial disputes in Ladakh, Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. What’s more, the BJP government’s hostility to Islamism means that India shows solidarity with Western countries that have fallen victim to terrorism. Many Indians expressed their solidarity at the time of the attacks in France. This desire to embody a form of non-alignment equidistant from the United States and China, and its open hostility to the development of Islamism, make India an ally for European patriots.

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